The Blood Moons most people are asking about are not part of astronomy. Their origin is religious, at least according to Christian pastor John Hagee, who wrote a 2013 book about Blood Moons. However, both astronomers and Christians are talking about the upcoming lunartetrad – a series of total lunar eclipses – which begins on the night of April 14-15, 2014.
Blood Moons in astronomy.
The full moon nearly always appears coppery red during a total lunar eclipse. That’s because the dispersed light from all the Earth’s sunrises and sunsets falls on the face of the moon at mid-eclipse. Thus the term blood moon can be and probably is applied to any and all total lunar eclipses. It’s only in years where volcanic activity is pronounced that the moon’s face during a total lunar eclipse might appear more brownish or gray in color. Usually, the moon looks red. Astronomy writers often say it looks blood red. Why? Because it sounds dramatic, and a lunar eclipse is a dramatic natural event.
What’s more, in astronomical lore, all the full moons have names. The names typically coincide with months of the year, or seasons. One of the most famous moon names is the Hunter’s Moon. It is the the full moon immediately following the Harvest Moon, which is the full moon occurring most closely to the autumnal equinox.
The Hunter’s Moon, in skylore, is also sometimes called the Blood Moon. Why? Probably because it’s a characteristic of these autumn full moons that they appear nearly full – and rise soon after sunset – for several evenings in a row. Many people see them when they are low in the sky, shortly after they’ve risen, at which time there’s more atmosphere between you and the moon than when the moon is overhead. When you see the moon low in the sky, the extra air between you and the moon makes the moon look reddish. Voila. Blood moon.
What is a lunar tetrad?
Both astronomers and Christians are talking about the lunar tetrad of 2014-2015. What is a tetrad? It’s four successive total lunar eclipses, with no partial lunar eclipses in between, each of which is separated from the other by six lunar months (six full moons)
Blood Moons in Biblical prophecy.
We’re not experts on prophecy of any kind. But we’ll tell you what we know about the new definition for Blood Moon that has caused so many questions recently.
From what we’ve been able to gather, two Christian pastors, Mark Blitz and John Hagee, use the term Blood Moon to apply to the full moons of the upcoming tetrad – four successive total lunar eclipses, with no partial lunar eclipses in between, each of which is separated from the other by six lunar months (six full moons) – in 2014 and 2015. John Hagee appears to have popularized the term in his 2013 book Four Blood Moons: Something is About to Change.
Mark Blitz and John Hagee speak of a lunar tetrad as representing a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. After all, the moon is supposed to turn blood red before the end times, isn’t it? As described in Joel 2:31 (Common English Bible):
The sun will be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood before the great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.
That description, by the way, describes both a total solar eclipse and total lunar eclipse. Sun turned to darkness = moon directly between the Earth and sun in a total solar eclipse. Moon turned to blood = Earth directly between the sun and moon, Earth’s shadow falling on the moon in a total lunar eclipse.
There are a total of 8 tetrads in the 21st century (2001 to 2100). But proponents of this Biblical prophecy regard the upcoming tetrad as especially significant because it coincides with two important Jewish holidays: Passover and Tabernacles.
The April 2014 and April 2015 total lunar eclipses align with the feast of Passover. The October 2014 and September 2015 total lunar eclipses align with the feast of Tabernacles.
The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar. In any year, it’s inevitable that a full moon should fall on or near the feasts of Passover (15 Nissan) and Tabernacles (15 Tishri). Nissan and Tishri are the first and seventh months of the Jewish calendar, respectively.
It is somewhat ironic that three of these four lunar eclipses are not visible – even in part – from Israel. The only eclipse that can be seen at all from Israel is the tail end of the September 28, 2015 eclipse, which may be observable for a short while before sunrise.
How common is a tetrad of total lunar eclipses?
Depending upon the century in which you live, a lunar tetrad (four consecutive total lunar eclipses, spaced at six lunar months apart from one another) may happen fairly frequently – or not at all.
For instance, in our 21st century (2001-2100), there are a total 8 tetrads, but in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, there were none at all. If we include all the centuries from the 1st century (AD 1-100) through the 21st century (2001-2100), inclusive, there are a total of 62 tetrads. The last one occurred in 2003-2004, and the next one after the 2014-2015 tetrad will happen in 2032-2033.
However, if we want to know which tetrads specifically fell on the Jewish feasts of Passover and Tabernacles, there appear to be a total of 8 in these 21 centuries:
1. 162-163 C.E. (Common Era)
2. 795-796 C.E.
3. 842-843 C.E.
4. 860-861 C.E.
5. 1493-1494 C.E.
6. 1949-1950 C.E.
7. 1967-1968 C.E.
8. 2014-2015 C.E.
Why is the term Blood Moon being used to mean a full moon of a lunar tetrad?
We can’t really tell you why more and more people are using the term Blood Moon to describe the four full moons of a lunar tetrad. We don’t know why, exactly.
Here’s the definition of a lunar tetrad, again: four successive total lunar eclipses, with no partial eclipses in between, each of which is separated from the other by six lunar months (six full moons). There’s no obvious reason why Blood Moon should be associated with this term.
To the best of our knowledge, however, the use of the term Blood Moon to describe a lunar tetrad is of recent origin. It might have originated with John Hagee’s 2013 book.
We’re still not sure whether Blood Moon pertains to the full moon of any tetrad, or specifically to a tetrad that coincides with the feasts of Passover and Tabernacles.
Either way, I suspect the nouveau definition of Blood Moon will gain traction as we approach the tetrad, the four total lunar eclipses of 2014 and 2015.
Bottom line: The term Blood Moon in astronomy in sometimes used as another name for the Hunter’s Moon. The term Blood Moon in Biblical prophecy appears to have been popularized by two Christian pastors, Mark Blitz and John Hagee. They use the term Blood Moon to apply to the full moons of the upcoming tetrad – four successive total lunar eclipses, with no partial lunar eclipses in between, each of which is separated from the other by six lunar months (six full moons) – in 2014 and 2015. Astronomers will not be using the term Blood Moon to describe these four upcoming lunar eclipses.